NH Inn Owner Sues Town and Fire Chief for $2 million

A New Hampshire fire chief is being sued by the owner of a bed and breakfast who claims the chief conspired with the town’s treasurer, with whom the chief is alleged to be romantically involved, to damage his business. Joseph Torro filed suit last week in US District Court naming the Town of Bradford, Bradford Fire Chief Mark Goldberg, and Bradford treasurer Marilyn Gordon.

According to the complaint, Torro bought a bed and breakfast in Bradford at a foreclosure auction in August, 2014. The property, then named the Candlelite Inn, was owned by Gordon. According to the complaint, Chief Goldberg lived at the inn. Torro claims that after the foreclosure, Chief Goldberg and Gordon set about sabotaging his efforts to use the building as a bed and breakfast.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • While making improvements, the plaintiff was visited by the Town of Bradford Code Enforcement Officer, Walter Royal. Royal stated that he foresaw no code issues and that he intended to issue the certificate of occupancy.
  • As the two men stood outside, Goldberg drove up the driveway to where they men were talking amicably about the improvements the plaintiff intended to make to the property.
  • Goldberg was clearly in a state of rage or distress and approached the plaintiff and Royal in a manner that any ordinary onlooker would have perceived as threatening and aggressive.
  • Goldberg told the plaintiff that he could not open the inn because of “all the deficiencies.”
  • The plaintiff was surprised by Goldberg’s unwarranted, aggressive approach. He was also shocked by Goldberg’s claim that the plaintiff would be unable to open the property as a B&B because of all the deficiencies.
  • The plaintiff asked Goldberg why the deficiencies did not present a problem that prevented his girlfriend – and the town treasurer – Gordon, from running an ongoing B&B business on the property.
  • Goldberg did not respond, and stormed off.
  • On October 6, 2014, the plaintiff attended a meeting of the board of selectmen.
  • At that meeting, the plaintiff addressed the selectmen about improvements he was making to the property that made it significantly safer than that it had been when Gordon and Goldberg were cohabitating there and Gordon was actively running the Candlelite Inn.
  • In the meeting, Goldberg asserted that because he “knew” the previous owner he was not able to conduct a fire safety check and would be recusing himself for anything having to do with the building.
  • In fact, Goldberg did not merely “know” the previous owner, he was living with her, in the then-named Candlelite Inn.
  • Goldberg asserted that because of this supposed conflict of interest, he was unable to perform an inspection of the property.
  • This was merely an elaborate ruse, concocted by Goldberg and Gordon together, to cause the state fire marshal’s office to inspect the plaintiff’s property.
  • By creating this ruse, Goldberg and Gordon ensured that the plaintiff would subjected to different treatment than the former owner, Gordon, who was running the property as a B&B while Goldberg lived in the building.
  • This ruse ensured that the plaintiff would be subjected to unequal treatment compared to Gordon.
  • Goldberg’s manipulation succeeded. Goldberg ensured that the state fire marshal applied a standard different than the standard he had enforced against Gordon.
  • As a result, the plaintiff was unable to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the Town.
  • On March 10, 2015, and despite representing to the plaintiff that he was recused from matters involving the property, Goldberg, with the cooperation of Gordon, sent an email to the state fire marshal. That email clearly shows that, far from being recused, Goldberg and Gordon remained actively involved in efforts to harm the plaintiff’s opportunity to run a successful business on the property.
  • Gordon’s efforts to bring harm to the plaintiff’s attempts to run the inn were not limited to conspiring with Goldberg. In April or May of 2015, the selectmen were considering a petition for a tax abatement that the plaintiff and his wife filed with the town.
  • In Bradford, the select board acts as the assessing body, so the decision of whether to grant the tax abatement fell to the select board.
  • The selectmen were prepared to grant the plaintiff a tax abatement of 50 percent, reflecting the decreased value of the property due to it not opening as a B&B. In other words, the selectmen were prepared to recognize the hardship caused by Goldberg’s and Gordon’s machinations through a tax reduction.
  • Gordon protested the selectmen’s preliminary decision to grant the plaintiff a tax abatement. Further, Gordon made her protestations during an improper non-public meeting that violated RSA 91-A, the New Hampshire Right to Know law.
  • Gordon made a strong objection to the proposal to reduce the plaintiff’s taxes and she insisted that she lodge her complaint to the selectmen behind closed doors, outside of public view. After she did this, the plaintiff’s tax abatement was never granted.

The complaint includes five counts:

  1. 42 U.S.C. §1983 Violation of 14th Amendment Equal Protection
  2. 42 U.S.C.§1983 – 5th and 14th Amendment Substantive Due Process
  3. Violation of New Hampshire Right to Know Law
  4. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
  5. Official Oppression/Misuse of Office – Violation of NH RSA 640:2

Torro is seeking $2 million in damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Torro v Goldberg

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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